judaism

In a Stranger’s Grave

In a Stranger's Grave

Last year, Jerusalem’s community theater group Theater and Theology put on a remarkable play. The show tackled the issue of how a religion deals with an ever changing world. Off the Derech Dolorosa was not only a pleasure to watch… I’d definitely give it two thumbs as a fantastic play to propose after.

And this year, they’re back to tackle an extremely divisive and potentially painful issue: The retroactive cancellation of Jewish conversions.

The Conversion Crisis

There are some crazy and complex things that happen in Israel’s religious community. Sometimes they’re amusing. Sometimes downright heartbreaking. And sometimes so perplexing, they feel impossible to wrap one’s head around.

In Israel, there are assorted issues surrounding conversion to Judaism that are complex talking points in our community. Small and enormous travesties abound. These issues inspired Miriam Metzinger to tackle them in her play, In a Stranger’s Grave.

“I … was re-reading Sophocles’ Antigone,” Metzinger said, “about Oedpus’ daughter Antigone who was not allowed by the king … to bury one of her brothers because [he] felt this burial would cause a kind of moral pollution. I immediately thought about a story I had read in the newspaper about someone whose body was denied burial … because the conversion was not recognized in Israel … The issues in Antigone … are still … current many centuries later.”

One of the show’s stars, Avital Macales, said, “Before getting to know this play, I had not heard that something like this could happen. I found it quite shocking when I finally heard about it. And I look forward to hearing the scholars speak after each performance and finding out what they think about the matter.”

Shocking Awareness

Personally, I was stunned as well. I’ve been studying Judaism for quite some time now. And despite my many reasons to be wary of the actions of Israel’s Rabbanut, initially I thought the play was addressing either a non-issue, or an extremely obscure topic.

After all, in Jewish law, a Jew never stops being a Jew. Even if one wants to, the DNA sticks to you like super glue. Neither casting off your beliefs nor renouncing your connection to the Jewish people, will have any impact whatsoever. And, of course, when one converts to Judaism, there is no difference. A Jew is a Jew. And once you’re a part of the tribe, there’s no going back. No matter what happens.

In a Stranger’s Grave

Sadly, I was wrong. In a Stranger’s Grave is based on real stories. True events that challenged the lives of real people, with real feelings. Tragedies that hurt people, and caused long-lasting impact.

Macales plays Esther Gottlieb, in her words “a 23-year-old woman who grew up in an Anglo Yeshivish environment in Jerusalem to a loving mother (a convert) and father, and one sister, Chana, with whom she is very close. [They] unfortunately suffered the loss of their father and, six years later, their mother.”

The story centers on the Rabbinic reaction to Esther’s mother’s conversion and the issue of whether or not the conversion can be retroactively invalidated. “The different reactions of the family and community members to the crisis highlight current conflicting values in the Jewish and Israeli world,” according to Yael Valier, the show’s director and the founder of Theater and Theology.

Macales describes Esther as “strong, opinionated, idealistic, and [someone who] looks truth straight in the eye”. Thus she is the perfect character to stare right in the face of a complex issue that can easily be misconstrued as black and white. She’s also a delight for Macales to play, seeing as she pours on the sarcasm, whereas her portrayer offstage likes to “keep all [her] real-life sarcasm bottled up inside”.

A True and Present Danger to Israel and the Jewish people

Valier describes this conversion disaster as “a fraught subject that is reaching crisis proportions in Israel”. But how can it be that something so complex and damaging is simultaneously obscure and ignored? Valier says, “the people affected don’t talk about it because by their very nature, conversion problems are kept quiet.” This topic, and others like it, is a true and present danger to Israel and the Jewish people. “It can [happen], it does [happen], and we should be aware.”

Miriam Metzinger wrote In a Stranger’s Grave to address an issue that needs to be discussed. Yael Valier and Theater and Theology produced In a Stranger’s Grave to make sure the word gets spread. But it’s up to the rest of us–those who care deeply about our country and people–to make sure issues like these are not swept under the rug.

I’ve said it many times before: We could be doing better.

What is Theater and Theology?

There are many community theater companies in Jerusalem. However, this group is different. One of the novelties of the Theater and Theology experience is the speakers. There is a scheduled talk after each performance, a scholar who addresses the play’s subjects. The scholars approach the issues from a number of different perspectives. Some noted speakers include Rabbanit Shani Taragin and Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.

The fascinating subjects are all meant to get you thinking. They spur conversation and open up doors for discussing topics we’re not always comfortable talking about. All of these fantastic scholars help us delve just a little deeper into subjects we care about immensely; however, we sometimes don’t know exactly how to collect our thoughts and feelings about them.

In a nutshell, Valier says that Theater and Theology “brings fascinating, current angles on philosophical questions to theater goers, and it takes scholars out of the lecture hall and into the theater. For me, that’s heaven.”

You can click here to learn more about Theater and Theology and to buy tickets for In a Stranger’s Grave. And keep your eyes wide open for more interesting productions in the future. Miriam Metzinger has upcoming dramas and comedies in the works. And Jerusalem’s theater community is a hidden gem in Jerusalem, with a lot more to come.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, 0 comments

The Shameful Marriage Industry

Marriage Industry

The smoke has cleared.

And I am now blissfully married to my one true love.

Everything was beautiful and we are working hard every day to have the dream life we’ve both always wanted.

But I can’t walk away from the experience without expressing some deep and painful concerns. The marriage industry is out of control, and there are countless aspects I need to speak out against. In this article I’d like to address just two.

The Rabbanut

For generations, the concept of a rabbinic body’s purpose in this world was to help improve the lives of those around them. Sadly, instead the Rabbanut of Israel has become synonymous with greed and inconvenience.

Everyone in Israel is forced by law to get married through the Rabbanut. The process is basically to “prove” that you are Jewish, single, and that you have fulfilled certain wedding requirements based on Jewish law.

I panicked as I entered the process, knowing full well that my divorce might cause problems. So, I called a handful of friends with similar situations and it seemed one of the recurring themes was people leaving the Rabbanut’s office in tears.

In tears!

Seriously.

The Shameful Rabbanut

Your organization should be ashamed. After generations of service to the Jewish world, selflessly giving to communities in a passionate attempt to make the world a better place, you now have reduced yourselves to aggressive harassment of couples in need of help. You have debased yourselves and the field, all in the name of a pathetic and pushy attempt to hold on to power.

And you charge a crap load of money in the process!

What are some of the “services” the Rabbanut does to earn their paycheck? They look over marriage and divorce documentation to make sure people are Jewish and not currently married. And couples send witnesses to them to testify that they are currently single.

The process is invasive, yet shallow. A five year-old could poke holes in their procedure, yet for whatever reason they’re obnoxious enough to send already stressed couples to the street sobbing uncontrollably.

The Incompetent Rabbanut

A great example of the Rabbanut’s silly incompetence was when I was required to go to the Rabbincal court in order to validate my divorce documentation. The office I needed to go to was in a terribly inconvenient location, with just as inconvenient office hours. My ex-wife had already been married with the same documentation in the same city. So I had to miss a great deal of work in order to be charged a large fee for them to essentially just print out a piece of paper, which I then had to deliver to others myself.

Why? All of these things could have been taken care of in minutes in a world with powerful computers and instant email capability. So why would they need to put me through all that? Why would I need to miss work, waste time, and throw money in the trash during an already busy and stressful time in life?

Greed.

And control.

And probably a hefty amount of incompetence.

Rabbi Revisited

Way back when I wrote about how I don’t like to be called “rabbi” anymore. I didn’t expect to have another reason. These people have turned the role into a joke at best; an embarrassment to the entire Jewish world at worst. I would never wish my name associated with such immorality.

Please, for the love of God, check yourselves. Figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, and find out whether or not you’re causing more harm than good. And then do everything in your power to give the Rabbanut back its good name.

The Marriage Industry Bubble

I fear the marriage industry is a bubble. Alongside of other unsustainable ridiculousness of our generation, such as universities, I don’t see how the marriage industry could continue like this indefinitely.

The industry preys on the fact that everyone not only feels a religious, cultural, or moral obligation to get married, but they feel there are certain standards that must be met. Women need a certain level of fanciness in their wedding gown (or just need a wedding gown). There must be halls and caterers and photographers and a band and on and on and on.

And the industry responds by charging outrageous prices for every last detail with unimaginable hidden fees. And when the smoke clears, and you think you can’t handle the pressure of everything, what happens? Wedding planners swoop in to save the day! And another fee gets tossed into the pile. (Side note: Our planner was great and I’d recommend him fully and completely.)

The Marriage Industry Aggression

First of all, when those getting married are seeking advice, it is wildly inappropriate to use that as an opportunity to just sell us your services. I felt like every time I posted anything online about my engagement party or wedding, a half dozen people sent me messages aggressively trying to get me to use their band or whatever.

I’m asking for advice. I’m under pressure. And just because I mention a wedding, doesn’t mean you need to swarm like vultures and devour me. My joyous occasion should not be your platform for aggressive marketing.

Marriage Industry Alternatives

Second of all, there are alternatives. Many alternatives. People can elope. Or they can just remain together unmarried indefinitely. And on and on. I fear this is the direction we’re headed if prices keep climbing and the industry keeps everything as fantastically stressful as it has so far.

Do we really want to undermine the institution of marriage for our own greed? Or do we want to do what we can to allow people to become wed in relative peace and harmony, without an additional looming threat of financial ruin?

The wrong choice is bad for everyone.

Choose wisely.

A Quick Shout Out

A quick shout out is in order for those who were shining lights in all this craziness.

The flower shop that gave us petals for our flower girls. When you told me they were free, I didn’t believe you. “Free” was not a word I was used to hearing during this process. It seemed like every time I sneezed, someone handed me a tissue and sent me a bill for $50. People, buy their flowers. They deserve it.

To all the friends and family who helped out or offered to help out, it is beyond appreciated. And to anyone who understood that a bride and groom need a lot of space and as little as possible to add to their stress, you are beautiful. Keep up the good work!

As for the rest of the industry, marriage is not an institution meant to be exploited or undermined. Shame on you.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 0 comments

To Be a Baal Teshuva Again

baal teshuva

In the Jewish world, I’m what’s called a Baal Teshuva. This literally translates to “Master of Repentance”, and refers to someone who was not brought up in a religious setting, but chose as an adult to take upon himself a religious lifestyle.

Becoming a Baal Teshuva

My process of becoming a Baal Teshuva was long and challenging, filled with ups and downs, and constant philosophical awakenings. And consistent learning and growth.

I remember with such fondness my initial days of learning about Judaism. I was an overjoyed sponge soaking in word after word, experience after experience. It was all new. And it was all fascinating.

I want to tell a story that reflects upon the innocence upon which I went about my search. I became religious along with a group of Jews known as Chabad. More precisely, it was at the home of a wonderful Chabad family in Albany, New York, but the family members were the only Chabad folk there. Everyone else was what’s known as Modern Orthodox.

One thing these two groups had in common was they both disliked some mysterious group called Satmar. The word meant nothing to me. The Modern Orthodox folk apparently disliked Satmar because they were against the State of Israel. Why Chabad didn’t like them seemed less clear to me. It almost sounded like a silly sibling rivalry.

Regardless, I wasn’t brought up to just discount a group of people because someone else said they didn’t like them. And I was determined to see for myself who these people were so I could make my own judgment call.

Finding Satmar

And there I was.

Home for break in New York. Wishing to spend a Shabbat (Sabbath or Shabbos) with Satmar, and not knowing where to begin. I had only two details. Satmar were Chassidic and they were based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the word “Chassidic” meant very little to me at the time, and the only reference point I had was Chabad, who were also Chassidic. And I assumed similarities.

Very, very incorrectly.

Chabad is known for being very open and welcoming. It has centers all over the world, known either as a Chabad House or a Beit Chabad. Chabad members are extremely well known for accepting all comers into their homes.

Satmar, on the other hand, is very insular. Their members keep to themselves and their community.

But I had no idea.

And there I was, in my kitchen, trying to figure out how I can spend a Shabbat with this group so I could make an educated judgment call.

I picked up the phone book (remember those?) and I looked for either “Satmar House” or “Beit Satmar”. Little did I know, those were not things that have or will ever exist.

The closest I could find was “Satmar Meat and Poultry”.

The Call

So… I called. I took a shot in the dark, and hoped for positive results.

Dopey, naive, and adorable me:

“Hi, my name is David Jaffe. I was hoping that you might be able to assist me. I’m looking to have a Shabbat host home experience with a Satmar family in Williamsburg. Do you know who I can contact to set this up?”

Extended pause…

And then there he was. The owner of Satmar Meat and Poultry, talking to a starry-eyed vegetarian in Staten Island, eking out the next few sentences with a strong Yiddish accent, clearly dumbfounded by what was happening:

“Um… uh… we don’t really have such things in Satmar. Uh… I don’t live in Williamsburg, I live in Boro Park… ehhh…

But if you’d like… you could come to me for Shabbos.”

And that’s how I ended up spending one of the most amazing Shabbats ever with a beautiful Satmar family in Boro Park, Brooklyn.

The Satmar Experience

And what an experience it was!

It felt like they had done this a thousand times before, when in reality it was probably their first and last time. Being kind and welcoming to this odd guest in their home was so very natural, even to the young children who kept offering me food and beverages.

I saw from inside an extremely special community. The prayer services were intense and inspiring. Everyone who noticed a new face came to introduce themselves and welcome me to their synagogue. The family even insisted I stay for an extra night to not risk a late night trip to Staten Island.

 

A Special Time in my Life

This was a very special time in my life. I was a Baal Teshuva, in the throes of discovery. Each day brought new and exciting adventures. And my mind was free to bask in awe at everything I was learning and taking in.

I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. But even better! It was like it was the first candy store I’d ever seen, and everyone kept pointing out the amazing things I was allowed to eat.

And with starry, innocent eyes I kept soaking in the magic, and learning anything anyone was willing to teach me.

 

Yearn to Return

Fast forward two decades, and I’m going through the motions. The times when I learn or experience something shockingly new and amazing are few and far between.

And I miss them. Oh boy, do I miss them.

I miss loving what I see and trying to appreciate everything. I miss trying new experiences with an open, ignorant mind. And I miss the longing for the next new adventure.

Now I just assume they won’t happen anymore.

You only get to be a Baal Teshuva once. But God knows I’d love to do the whole thing over again.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, personal story, religion, 1 comment

Apologies to the World

apologies

Teshuva

This is always an interesting time of year for me. The Jewish high holidays are right around the corner. People are speaking all the time about being the best versions of themselves. And there’s never ending talk about teshuva, which loosely translates to repentance.

I find the word “repentance” very off-putting. Not only is it not in most people’s everyday vocabulary, but it has a certain overly religious ring to it. There is nothing inherently religious about apologies. Teshuva is about returning to a previous state. It’s about resetting the situation, taking the errors that have occurred and learning to move past them. It is a fundamental part of the Jewish faith, and an essential part of all quality human interaction.

We all make mistakes. We all hurt other people. Sometimes we do so intentionally, but far more often we either don’t recognize we’ve done it, or we can trick ourselves into thinking we’ve done nothing wrong whatsoever. But with just a little gentle introspection, and none of us will be able to escape the countless times we’ve hurt others in our lives. Very often the people we would least like to harm.

An Odd Tradition

There is a bit of an odd tradition around this time of year that irks me a little. It’s done with very good intentions, but I feel it misses the mark, and removes the depth of the concept of teshuva. People will make blanket statements to many people apologizing if they’ve wronged them in any way, or they’ll do the same kind of thing with scores of people throughout the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur.

Are we all so self unaware that we don’t know when we’ve hurt others, that the only “real” apologies we can offer are for vague actions or events that may or may not have happened?

Bigger and Better Apologies

I propose something far deeper, something that takes a great deal of hard work and introspection. And it also takes digging deep within yourself to find where damage has been done and repairs need to take place.

Grab a pen and paper and start surveying your life. Take a deep look at decades worth of relationships. Look at the good ones along the way. Look at the ones that were really challenging along the way. Start slowly compiling a list of names. Ask yourself questions like you never have before. Did I have a wonderful friendship with someone that went sour? Why’d that happen? Is it something I said or did? Is it possible I pushed someone away from me?

Look at the hurt and pain you’ve caused others throughout the years. Please don’t be naive or arrogant enough to think you haven’t done so. We all hurt people. We all cause pain. That doesn’t mean we’re bad people. It means we open our mouths! Every time we speak we’re risking someone around us feeling hurt. One person’s cute, simple joke is another person’s ruined evening.

Start from your earliest memories and slowly work your way toward the present. Jot down name after name. When you think you’re done, start over. Do it again! Even slower this time. Think just a little bit harder. And get that list as fine tuned as humanly possible.

Finding The Hurt

We are blessed in this generation to have countless ways to hunt people down. Usually it’s as easy as a simple Facebook search. It doesn’t really get much harder than asking a friend of a friend.

Once you find those people, it’s time to pour out the words. It’s time to search the deepest depths of your humility to admit that maybe, just maybe, you had a hand in the damaged relationship. And it’s time to (gasp) say that you’re sorry. Not empty apologies to a group of people with no real substance or meaning. Not a vague shell of an apology to someone for whom you really don’t see any issues.

Only sincere yearning for someone to forgive you for the wrongs you have done.

Apologies: What Happens?

I took exactly this approach a few years back, and it was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. By the time all of my introspection was complete, my list had about 20-30 people. There were a couple I couldn’t find. And some for whom I couldn’t eke out a response.

But beyond those few anomalies, finding the remaining couple of dozen was one of the most incredible and freeing experiences of my life. There were a few shocking realizations, such as people who turned out weren’t actually upset with me. Misunderstandings abounded. Sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Sometimes not even close. The only way you could ever know is to open up the dialogue.

The second most common response I received was straight-up, unadulterated, thorough forgiveness. The outpouring of love and understanding was so inspiring. It’s worlds easier to forgive than it is to ask for forgiveness. And once you ask, a beautiful process just pours forward.

Reciprocity

But by far the most common response I received from people was a return apology. The willingness to see your own culpability, and to reach out and try and put these life messes behind you, opens up people’s hearts. Introspection is inevitable. And a simple act of contrition turns into so much more than the original intention. Mutual apologies along with forgiveness is the best possible scenario, and it is touching every time it happens.

Obviously we all have different life experiences; however, so long as you interact with other people, mistakes and conflicts are inevitable. As the years progress, the numbers increase. The burden increases as well. And it becomes more and more daunting to think that maybe we should go back and revisit the past. Why can’t we just let it disappear forever? Why? Because it never does. All of our experiences, good or bad, become a part of who we are. What a unique opportunity it is for us to go ahead and flip the switch! We can take the many “bads” that happen over the years and turn them into something truly and unforgettably amazing.

May we have a phenomenal year of powerful connections and even more powerful reconnections.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, 0 comments

The Ability to Know Nothing: A Deep Look at Argument and Disagreement

Argument

Complicated Generation

We’re in a complicated generation.

I listen to podcasts all the time, and I think the most common thread I feel throughout what I’m hearing is that people just don’t know how to argue anymore.

Rules of Argument

In my estimation, there are four rules to a good, old-fashioned argument. Four rules I like to live my life by:

  1. Don’t take a strong stand on an issue unless you’re educated on said issue
  2. All opinions in an argument are valid, as long as they are thoughtful
  3. Never use logic in an emotional argument (and vice versa)
  4. Separate your feelings on the issue at hand from your feelings about the person with whom you are conversing

What Actually Happens?

But what do we actually see, seemingly all day everyday?

People constantly tackle issues based on gut reactions or something they heard one time. They’re not willing to do the leg work to really understand what they’re saying. They say whatever comes to mind and don’t really evaluate their thoughts and opinions. And they make them instant canon.

And they discount others’ opinions. They think of others’ thoughts as irrelevant or biased or stupid or even racist. There’s an assumption that if the opinion is different from their own, it is evil. There is no consideration of the possibility that another person might actually be saying something worth listening to.

Furthermore, I often see these uncomfortable spectacles where one party in a discussion is arguing using logic and facts while the other is using reactions and emotions. This type of discourse never produces positive results and is completely pointless. When data is presented and the other party says “Well, that’s not how I feel“, it’s time to move on from the discussion at hand.

Finally–and this is the part that irks me the most in our generation–we’ve seemingly lost the ability to disagree without hating one another. Why can I not believe something drastically different from you, and not simultaneously respect you, care about you, and maintain a civil, positive, and respectful relationship with you? Why should this impact our friendship?

Did Something Change?

Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I feel that even since I was a kid, things have changed drastically. People used to engage in intelligent discourse. It could sometimes get heated, but that didn’t mean there was animosity. People were more divorced from the topics and could discuss them without walking away thinking there was reason to be upset, at the other person or in general.

Where did we go wrong?

When did we start closing ourselves off to those who may disagree with us?

Something’s happened over the generations. We have gotten weak. We’ve gotten soft. We run with fear when we hear opinions different from our own, and cower when those opinions are presented alongside facts.

Argument in Jewish Tradition

Jewish tradition is replete with lessons about how to gain knowledge through questioning, engaging discourse, and learning from those different from you.

Three examples:

  1. Pesach (Passover) seders throughout the world are designed to get children to ask questions. Young family members are rewarded handsomely not for listening attentively or blindly accepting parents’ beliefs or ideas, but for using their curious little minds to question to their hearts’ content.
  2. We are taught of a sage (Rabbi Yochanan) who was ill and requested a study partner. Sadly, he had pushed his favorite one (Reish Lakish) away with harsh words. They brought Rabbi Yochanan many study partners, all of whom he rejected. Why? Because they agreed with him on all points and just brought support for those views. Rabbi Yochanan wanted disagreement. He wanted his mind sharpened. He needed the push-pull of intelligent, open, critical discourse to truly understand his own perspective.
  3. And then there is the biggest example. The well-known question and answer from Pirkei Avot (The Chapters of our Fathers). Pirkei Avot asks: Who is wise? The sages then do not tell us to learn from brilliant scholars. They do not tell us to seek others who share similar viewpoints or political leanings. No! The sages answer: He who learns from all people. All people! Thus we learn that if one truly wants to fully develop his mind to the highest level possible, no opinion can be discounted. Every idea must be accessible.

An Aside

-An aside: I know there might be someone out there thinking that Judaism is loaded with dogma and that I’m cherrypicking facts to support my own worldview. Others might be thinking about their time in Jewish schools where their thoughts or opinions were not validated. I sympathize if your experience with Judaism differs from what I am presenting. It doesn’t change the fact that this IS the proper Jewish way of life and the only way I believe we can understand our traditional sources. If others are abusing their authority and treating my religion differently, they are acting shamefully. In my eyes, they do not represent an authentic Jewish perspective.-

The Benefits of Opening Your Mind

This topic is near and dear to my heart for so many reasons. I feel like my ability to listen to other people’s perspectives, and keep myself open to growth and change, is my single greatest quality. I have friends from all walks of life, and we can benefit from each other and care about one another, all differences aside. Furthermore, I can look at any issue, and even if I’ve already formulated an opinion (even a strong one), I’m never closed off to further influence. This attitude has resulted in major transformations in my life. And continues to do so.

In fact, just recently I discovered (to my intense delight) that just about everything I thought I knew about myself was wrong. For three years post-divorce I’ve been surrounding myself with walls to protect myself. And in an instant, I felt the walls come tumbling down around me. I felt everything change, and a feeling of intense satisfaction and enjoyment washed over my whole self.

The ability to know nothing opened me up to growth and change I never thought possible.

And everything’s different now. Everything is better now.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, 1 comment

Tales of Jewish Dating, Part III: Dating Wrong

Jewish Dating Wrong

Dating Wrong

Wrapping up this little series on Jewish Dating, I’d like to discuss some major insights I’ve pieced together.

I don’t have all the answers. Not even close. But 20 years of dealing with dating, marriage, and divorce have taught me a few lessons about what to do. And more importantly, what not to do.

Here are five little gems. Feel free to argue (even if you’re wrong):

Don’t Ooze Desperation

Don’t say yes to every date proposed for you. And don’t hang around with someone you’re pretty sure isn’t at all right for you, hanging on the hopes that maybe things will turn around.

And please don’t run around telling the world you’re looking to get married.

There are two reasons for all of this. First, it creates a lot of pressure on yourself. Nothing good comes from walking around stressed or unhappy. And pushing yourself too hard can result in hasty and/or bad decision making.

But just as important, desperation is unattractive. Confidence pulls people toward you. Knowing what you like, being comfortable with yourself, and standing for what you believe in pulls people toward you. When you ooze desperation, it’s like a nasty aroma that nobody wants to come close to.

Go on dates. But don’t make it the heart of your existence. Dating is something a whole person does with the hopes of sharing their fantastic life with another person. If it’s everything to you, then when it doesn’t work out, you have nothing.

Which leads to my next point.

Being Single is Amazing

Before I got married, I hated being single. I didn’t know how to do it well. Now I have a new problem. I love being single so much, I may have lost the capacity to join someone else into my life. But that’s for another post.

I believe learning how to love being single is a prerequisite for marriage. It might sound peculiar, or even counterintuitive. However, there are three main reasons for this:

a. Those leading a quality single life are more interesting and more desirable. No one wants to date someone dull, nor does anyone want to live a life that’s just about dating. It’s unfulfilling now and most certainly in the long run. You shouldn’t look back and worry about the lost time in your life.

b. A healthy marriage involves the intelligent fusion of two whole individuals. They are wonderful separately, and even more wonderful as a pair. It shouldn’t be that your only contribution to the unit is having agreed to be a part of it.

c. Most importantly: Happiness comes from within, not from a spouse. Fact is, no spouse, no matter how amazing, can determine whether or not you are happy. That is a personal decision. And if you mask true happiness with joy that solely emanates from another person, when you remove that person, you remove the happiness. Your true joy needs to come from you. Learn to love being single. Then open your heart to share your incredible self with another person.

Dating Should Be Fun

Jewish dating isn’t fun. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s pragmatic. It’s stressful. There is a tremendous amount of pressure, both external and internal.

It really, truly does not need to be this way.

You want to get married. I get it. That doesn’t mean dating is a chore on the road to accomplishing your goal. Let yourself go. Be loose. Be yourself. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the other person. It doesn’t have to lead to marriage to be enjoyable. You may just have found a new person in your life. Who knows? Maybe they’ll become a good friend or a business connection. Or maybe you’ll just have had a pleasant, memorable evening.

Obviously it takes two people to make that happen. But all communal shifts in attitude begin with one person.

Go at the Same Pace

It’s very important to gauge the temperature of the person you’re with. Some of us have the tendency to go from 0-60 extremely quickly, and we miss the fact that the person we’re with is taking their time.

What happens when this occurs? At first it’s OK. Or at least it feels fine. One party is constantly calling and complimenting and giving small gifts. The other is enjoying the attention, but is not really moving toward any meaningful feelings.

After a certain amount of months, the slower party is either interested in continuing the slow pace, or wants to move on from the relationship; and their pursuer is just a drip away from proposing! With feelings galore, he is in for a rude awakening and about to have his heart severely broken.

Relationships are complex. There are lots of moving parts. And sometimes it’s easy to forget that whereas each and every one of your feelings are entirely valid, so are all of those of the other party. If you ignore them, the end results will not be good. The best way to know what another person is feeling is through open and honest communication. If it’s not there, the relationship is doomed to fail anyway. Get out.

Just make sure you’re on the same page, looking for the same things, and going at a similar pace.

Know when to say yes… and when to call it quits

When do you ask a person to marry you? There’s only one correct answer. No one knows! How great it would be if life were that simple. It would be amazing if we could predict the viability of a relationship with any level of certainty!

But we can’t. We only have what we have.

What’s that? Our hearts, our minds, and our trusted companions.

Problem is, most of us have a tendency to ignore one or more of these three elements, and they’re all essential. More often than not, the heart gets all the attention. We’re left with a brain mindlessly following emotions, without any shred of logic. Without any checks and balances. We can all fall into this trap. And the easiest way to protect ourselves is to be surrounded by people we love and trust, who can help us make thoughtful, intelligent decisions, without fear of consequence.

We might not have all or even anywhere near close to all the answers. But we were born with keen minds and a need for meaningful companionship. We need to use them all when it counts the most.

 

What did you learn from your journey?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, Israel, judaism, 0 comments

Tales of Jewish Dating, Part II: Lessons Learned

wejewish dating

In my last post, I told many stories about the less-than-perfect experience I had with shadchanim and Jewish dating. I’d like to speak about some things I learned from these experiences.

Not All Shadchanim are Created Equal

First, not all shadchanim are made equal. Some really take the time to get to know you. It doesn’t feel like a matchmaking factory, where they’re sending you out constantly, hoping if you go out enough times you’ll hit pay dirt. They actually want to connect people for whom they perceive a logical connection. And their heart is in the right place. Your long-term tranquility and happiness is the center of their concern.

Others… not so much. It’s a numbers game. They toss people out, knowing full well that if you shoot enough times at the target, you’re bound to graze the bullseye a few times. The elephant in the room is that this type of dating is horrendous, with potentially disastrous long-term results. Dating can get very expensive, and it’s really difficult emotionally. Jewish dating in my crazy city is not fun. It’s often a highly pragmatic marriage interrogation. If it works out, great. If not, you have nothing to show for it. Just lost time and money. No new friend or connection. No amazing experience. Just another failed attempt to find “the one”.

And what happens when it does work? What happens when you toss people together enough times and at some point they do get married? Are you creating healthy, long-lasting relationships based on trust, shared values, and quality communication? Or are you just tossing people in the same room and letting the chips fall where they may? And then abandoning these young, ill-fated couples to figure it all out on their own?

I’m sure there are shadchanim out there who are skilled and thorough. And I’m sure there are those who just have a knack for what they do. The others should stop. They’re doing more harm than good, all positive intentions aside.

Interpretation

Another lesson I gained is about terminology. There are phrases I would use to describe myself that I would never use again in front of a shadchan. I consider myself to be extremely open-minded, especially relative to a lot of folk in my immediate vicinity. However, I quickly learned that whereas I mean that I am open to all sorts of different thoughts and ideas, and I’m willing to try many things in life even way outside my comfort zone, the term seem to get misconstrued by shadchanim as “has no standards”.

So, if you want a shadchan who goes through a list of those who as of yet no one wants to date, by all means tell them you’re open-minded. Please be aware: The damage to your self esteem upon seeing the type of people you get set up with could crush your soul.

Jewish Dating, a Bit Too Serious

A final lesson I culled from the Jewish dating process is it saps your will. It could certainly be expensive. It is most definitely time consuming. But more than any of that, the emotional drain is severe. Keep in mind, this is a very serious form of dating. You’ve got two people interacting, both who wanted to be married yesterday. Hell, they want to have three kids by now! There’s no time for letting go and just enjoying the moment.

In fact, the best date I ever went on was, by Jewish dating standards, an absolute failure. We learned very quickly that we had certain values and lifestyle choices that didn’t mesh correctly. Marriage was out of the question, therefore so was continuing to date. However, we were already there and enjoying each other’s company. I recall very little about this young lady. I don’t even remember her name or what she looks like. But I will never forget the hour and a half we sat just chitchatting on a bench in Jerusalem, eating sunflower seeds and spitting shells all over the place (Israel’s simultaneously most revolting and most amazing custom). The conversation was fantastic. All pressure was 100% gone. And we sat there with the ability to enjoy ourselves, without a care in the world.

It’s actually funny. When going on a date in any capacity, the advice everyone always gives you is to be yourself. And yet with this style of dating, it’s so rigid and uncomfortable that being yourself ceases to be a viable option.

What’s next?

And when all the smoke clears, the date usually ends one of two ways: You either continue on the marriage trajectory, zooming your way to a new apartment filled with wall-to-wall children. Or you have nothing. Nothing at all. No friendship has been created, nor do you have a long-term, meaningful connection. No adventurous story has been added to your life. You just move on to the next uncomfortable moment, hoping that this one will be different. And you try to forget this lousy moment, and the time from your life you will never be able to get back.

Again, I’m sure there are those who try and set people up with the finest of intentions, and who are thoughtful and caring about really trying to put two people in the same room who actually should be. And thus quality dates and marriages might result.

That was not my experience.

Nope. I met my wife on a bus. And sure, it didn’t work out in the end. But we hacked 13 years together. Seems better than most this day and age.

And I’d still take a bus over a shadchan any day of the week.

In my next post I’ll talk about some more important lessons I culled from these last insane 20 years.

 

Anything you learned from your experiences?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, Israel, judaism, personal story, 1 comment

Tales of Jewish Dating, Part I: Shadchanim and Beyond

shadchanim

In The Beginning…

Almost two decades ago, I started dating with a fury. I was visiting shadchanim and going on dates just about every week.

And I was miserable.

At the time I was living in Israel, watching all my friends getting married, and itching to find my own soulmate. Arguably pathetically desperate.

I went to many, many shadchanim. This word loosely translates to matchmakers (and very humorously is also the word in Hebrew for staplers). No, they’re not what you might picture from Fiddler on the Roof. It’s a fairly modern version of a similar idea. They’re simply people who maintain lists of guys and girls, and try to attempt to intelligently pair them up.

I don’t want to crap on the profession (or hobby). But I can definitely say it was a system that failed me terribly.

To start my tale, I want to tell a few stories from my pre-marriage attempts to meet people through the “system”.

Shadchanim and Common Character Traits

I recall sitting in a hotel lobby with an Israeli girl. We attempted polite conversation, but failed miserably. And to make matters all the more uncomfortable, she was very clearly a gold digger. I don’t really have a problem with that per se… however, at that point in my life I was working as a sofer (scribe), and living on scraps. How do you tell your gold digger date that you’re living in a caravan for $90 a month, and still sometimes struggle to make rent?

Afterwards I went to the shadchanit (female matchmaker) and politely asked her what she saw that made her think we would be a good match. And that’s when she said two words that will forever live in my mind in infamy:

“Mostly age.”

I still get angry even typing the words.

For God’s sake, if the only thing you can find in common between two people is something wildly trivial, and you completely ignore all other details that show the match is not a good one, get another hobby!

Common Philosophical Outlook

Another odd moment I had involved a young lady who sat across from me and stated without a shred of irony that she can’t believe how anyone can call themselves Lubavitch and not believe the Rebbe is the Messiah.

Now for anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about, the Rebbe is a reference to the leader of a Chassidic group (Lubavitch or Chabad) who died in 1994. A rapidly quieting faction decided that despite his death, the Rebbe was in fact the Messiah. There is a minuscule portion of the Jewish population who believes this. And then there are the rest of us, who find the idea to be anywhere from inane to repellent.

My thoughts upon hearing that my date held this position with extremely aclacrity:

“Well… I guess the rest of this date’s a formality… ”

Shadchanim and Looking for a Little Growth

Once I went to a shadchanit who sat with a little rolodex of eligible guys and girls. You would tell her a little about yourself and she would flip through her little card catalogue from an era gone by, trying to see who might be a fitting match.

I described myself, as one might in their early 20s, as being very spiritual. Constantly searching. Looking to grow and become a better person every day of my life.

At least twice during our little meeting, she said something along these lines:

“Oh, this is a very lovely girl. She’s a nursing student. Very pretty. Extremely nice attitude. And… oh wait, sorry. She’s not into growth.”

And then she would continue fiddling with the rolodex looking for the next candidate.

And I just stood there. Dumbfounded. Wondering what their conversation must have looked like.

“Hi, my name is Samantha. I would like to find a person with whom to stagnate and stay the same forever.”

Nearly two decades later, I still have no words.

And along with the no words, there is no segue that does this final story justice.

What’s a Little Hair Pulling?

Many moons ago I was hired to work as a security guard at a festival in Jerusalem. The workload was very light, but it is not within the capability of an Israeli boss to just to let you sit there and do nothing. When in doubt, they make up stuff to do.

And there I was. Appointed to stand next to the stage, and told my sole responsibility was to arbitrarily tell people they couldn’t walk past the area I was blocking.

And then, of course, everybody and their sister not only needed to walk through that area, but there was no other choice. And it was a matter of life and death.

One young lady stood in front of me. She gave me a sob story about how she had asked the people at the front entrance to use the bathroom, all so she could sneak into the concert. But alas, now she had a change of heart and wanted to leave. However, if she went out the way she came, they would know what she did. The ONLY way she could go to avoid trouble and embarrassment was the path that I was blocking.

Meanwhile…

Two other folk were screaming at me to let them by, as if my preventing their doing so was preventing them from curing cancer.

And the anger and emotions pouring from the three of them stood in stark contrast to my one and only responsibility.

This went on for what felt like a year, until while I was dealing with the screamers, the young lady decided to dart right past me.

I recall the next part in slow motion. I shouted, “Nooooo!” and reached in her direction… and before I knew what was happening, she was staring at me in pain. And I stood there with a fistful of her hair in my hand.

I awoke from my stupor, released my grip, and she ran off into the night. Never to be seen or heard from again.

At least that’s what I thought…

Two years later… I was walking along on a date… and I really thought the girl looked familiar…

Yes. That happened. It really did.

Suffice it to say, there was no second date.

 

So… it would appear that the road of shadchanim was not the right path for me. What’s next?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, humor, judaism, personal story, 0 comments

My Overwhelming Dilemma: What Would You Do?

dilemma

The First Dilemma

There are a lot of reasons I am writing this post. However, the biggest reason is to just get some things out into the open. Things I’ve been bottling up for way too long, all starting with the first dilemma.

Many years ago I worked at Cornell University. I was in charge of a Jewish outreach program there.

My wife was running an incredibly important program, sadly filled with complications and controversies. The extraordinarily noble goal was to unite the different elements of a rather divided community in a program that was educational, fun, enriching, and spiritually invigorating.

We had a special guest visiting from Israel, who would be leading a musical prayer service followed by a communal meal. The dilemma? We wanted to try and get all the different elements of the community to join together for the prayer service.

This issue was not just one of preference. There were countless philosophical and theological issues and concerns at play here.

The stricter elements of the group (orthodox) pray with what’s called a mechitzah, a physical separation between the males and the female. The purpose is essentially to improve concentration on the prayers. The other groups not only do not pray in this manner, they find it anywhere from antiquated to offensive, and would never willingly pray in such an atmosphere. And neither group is known for making a lot of concessions on their beliefs or practices.

But the whole program hinged on getting everyone together. And it was my responsibility to figure out a way to make it work.

The Solution

I contacted an authority on Jewish law in Israel, someone I knew and greatly respected. And he had a solution, which seemed to be a great idea. There would be three sections: A men’s section, a women’s section, and a section where people could sit how they choose. The ideas was simple. From the strict perspective, we just needed to give the ability to do the “right” thing. From the less strict perspective, they just needed the option to do things the way they preferred and were used to.

This seemed to solve all problems. And I flew with it.

But not without serious trials ahead of me. I fought battle after battle with many people over the course of well over a month. However, when all the smoke cleared, I was on top of the world. I had conquered every objection.

I even recall a student who vehemently and vigorously argued with me about the permissibility of the mixed section. After he couldn’t take it any more, he contacted his own religious authority… who confirmed everything I said.

I fought and won an uphill battle. It wasn’t easy, but I prevailed.

Now all we needed to do was survive the nightmarish logistics and we were on track to have an epic program. We would unify the elements of a fragmented community, and inspire a multitude of students hungry for such inspiration.

And then my phone rang…

Through the wild Jewish grapevine, my boss had heard about the program we were running, and the solution we had devised in order to make the program work effectively.

He told me in no uncertain terms that the solution was completely unacceptable. And for all issues like this one, we were now required to ask him and only him. He even approached the rabbi who I had spoken with and requested he no longer answer my questions, thus closing off a major resource in my life.

The Big Dilemma

There I stood, stuck with an insanely difficult challenge.

I could uproot things as they were and try and see what new solutions we could come up with on short notice. It is fairly likely I’d find no viable alternative in time, thus in essence destroying the program we’d been working on for months.

The inevitable results of doing so would be personal and professional embarrassment. A community that liked, trusted, and respected me would need to rethink their position, since I had stood so firmly behind this idea, and cancelling the program would just be a giant declaration that I was wrong and had been the whole time.

I would watch endless hours of hard work coming crashing down beneath me, as our program gets projected toward certain failure. I can only imagine how great our international visitor would feel, knowing that he arrived to work with a mere fraction of the students he was expecting, and would only be reaching a very limited population.

And let’s not forget the potential marital discord that could erupt. My wife had put everything into making sure the program was all set up and ready to go.

Or…

I could just ignore the phone call, run the program, and risk the overwhelmingly likely consequences that would arise.

And I chose the second option.

I took the phone conversation and just bottled it up inside me. Until now.

The Future

My contract for that job was not extended for a second year. I’m sure this “incident” was hardly the only reason for my dismissal, but I’m certain it was a hefty contributing factor.

This story has been eating at me for over a decade.

Sometimes it’s healthy and healing just to get these thoughts and feelings outside of you. I wonder all the time if I did the right thing. I wonder if it was wrong to place the health of my marriage and my personal integrity ahead of job concerns. Or if abiding by my employer’s wishes would have ultimately been healthier for both of these things. I wonder.

 

What would you have done?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 8 comments

Six Things I Love About Israel

Love about Israel
So… anyone who’s been paying attention for a bit may have noticed I’m a bit harsh in my criticism of Israel. Well, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, recently a friend of mine challenged me to come up with ten things I love about Israel.

I love a good challenge… and this certainly was one. And sadly I wasn’t able to come up with ten, but I think six is a healthy place to start.

Please please give me more ideas. I can’t tell you how much I want to love living here!

1) The Produce

When I arrived in Israel in 1997, there were several types of vegetables I did not like, and some fruits I had nothing interesting to say about.

That was until I took a bite of some of them in the Holy Land. One bite and I realized why I didn’t like the cucumbers and tomatoes in the States. They taste awful! Flavorless at best. The produce in Israel may not look the part. The colors aren’t as vivid. The shapes are often funny. And there are plenty of items not available year round.

But the flavor is off-the-charts incredible. And the prices are uncharacteristically amazing. One of the only things cheaper in Israel.
If you’re here in the fall, try a mango. You won’t regret it. It’s like eating candy. It’s the way they’re supposed to taste!

2) Ease of Religious Lifestyle

My last year in the States was pretty rough, as far as scheduling was concerned. The last two jobs I had were for major corporations, but I was a contracted employee. This had a lot of complications, the biggest being that I was paid hourly and received no paid holidays or vacations. What this meant was the company was closed for every American holiday and I was not paid for those days, and I needed to take off and not get paid for all the Jewish holidays as well.

Every once in a while the same companies would give us free food, food that was very much not kosher. One of the companies had a program where different employees would give a lecture and the company would then give everyone a free lunch. Even when I volunteered to give the lecture, the food was still off limits to me.

I can go on and on about the complications in trying to make it in the professional world out there when you have a whole assortment of religious restrictions. But I’ll leave it as this: One of the biggest advantages to Israel is that the country’s system and schedule is by and large based on Judaism and the Jewish calendar. I’m never rushing home on Friday to make it in time for Shabbat. Nor do I miss out on countless activities because they’re all on Saturday or Friday night. Nope. Things here are designed around my schedule, and I absolutely love it.

3) A Walking Culture

I’m aware there are places in the States where people still walk, but for the most part, it’s a rarity. I grew very accustomed to driving everywhere, even relatively short walks. I even drove to my gym that was a 20 minute walk away. To my gym!

Now the old train tracks in Jerusalem are essentially my backyard. I walk on them about an hour every day, and it’s always filled with people doing the same. I’m a happier person if I avoid cars and buses here. They are stressful and can get quite expensive. And with traffic and a whole lot of other variables, they strip you of control of your schedule.

Not only can I walk to every place I every want to be, but I’m joined by others doing the same. I love living in a culture that encourages and normalizes the best method of transportation ever created.

4) Dealing with the Big Stuff

Years ago I sat next to an American doctor who led a team of medical professionals to Haiti to deal with a humanitarian crisis following a giant earthquake. The team got together, and showed up with pride and joy to save the day… only to find Israel had long ago sent a team that was fully up and running and making the world a better place.

I’ve had enough experience here to avoid doctors’ offices to the best of my ability, but I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be if true tragedy struck. Perhaps Israel became what it is because of necessity, but there’s a reason this tiny nation could mobilize instantly and help another country across the world with seemingly no effort. It’s become a part of the country’s DNA.

When I see something terrible happen here, the first response time is off the charts and the quality of service is second to none. Years ago in Baltimore we rushed my son to the Emergency Room because of a possible broken nose. Six hours later, and $800 poorer, he was admitted so we could indeed find out his nose wasn’t broken. My experience in American Emergency Rooms is they’ve kind of forgotten the definition of the word “emergency”.

I hope I never need first responders or an emergency room… but if I do, I hope I’m in Israel.

5) Freedom of Children

I love that children seem to be released from their parent’s shackles a lot younger in Israel. I mean, they might still end up 30-year old adults who frequently go home for some home-cooked dinner and laundry, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about walking around the streets and seeing young, young kids walking freely, without a care in the world, sometimes picking up groceries for the house or watching their even younger siblings.

It’s kind of like an even better version of what I remember from America in the 80s. Better because it’s even younger. Growing up we went to parks by ourselves and played on old, splintery contraptions, and had the time or lives. All of that has been replaced by boring, plastic monstrosities, and helicopter parents fearing child abduction. Nothing’s actually changed, except attitudes and perspectives.

Kids need freedom to enjoy life and grow into well-adapted adults. A little goes a long way.

6) Hosting Couch Surfers

I haven’t been able to bring all of my hobbies with me from the States to Israel. But of everything that I did bring over, there is one that I’ve certainly made the most of in Israel, and that’s hosting Couch Surfers.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved hosting people in the States. And I certainly loved the people I met. But most people in Kansas City were just passing through, and unfortunately the biggest thing I was providing for them was safe lodging. In Israel I can provide an experience!

I have now taken countless people to see the Western Wall for the first time, showed them all around the city, and given insights into the culture and customs of the country.

Almost everyone who passed through my home in America was from the United States, whereas here I’ve hosted people from over 20 countries. I’m making interesting and incredible connections all over the world.

I’m no one’s first choice to be Jerusalem’s Ambassador, but for these scores of guests who stay in my home, I am committed to making sure their visit to Israel is as incredible as it could be. And watching people fall in love with Jerusalem makes me like it here a lot more as well.

 

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